Are you making common mistakes when you pitch your product, service or ideas?

In a recent webinar, we focused on a business lesson that applies to all of us—no matter our role or level; in business and at home; in formal and informal dealings: we could all more effectively present our information and ideas. Because nearly 100% of us is either guilty of making or witnessing presentation mistakes, we are bringing some quick lessons to you that will help to ensure that you more effectively develop and deliver your next presentation, pitch or idea.

If you prefer, here is a ten minute video that reviews the highlights of the webinar. The supporting detail and a number of specific tips are included below.

We’re talking to YOU!

YOUDon’t think that you can tune out for a few minutes because this lesson is really for your sales staff or marketing team. Everyone’s a presenter! Consider, of course, the sales person who has to develop her pitch and “leave-behinds”. This requires presentation skills! The team member looking for buy-in regarding a new field process also requires presentation skills. The manager responsible for orienting new employees to the business and their potential roles has to create a clear and compelling presentation. Even the person approaching their neighbor about splitting the cost to replace their shared fence could benefit by knowing how to effectively present his idea to his “audience”.

Being a subject matter expert does not qualify someone as an excellent presenter. Do you recall a time when you’ve witnessed a brilliant person boring a room to death? Everyone can.

This message is relevant for every one of us—it’s relevant for you!

The audience is paramount!

This is the most important thing to keep in mind for any presenter—your audience is paramount! Focus the presentation on what’s in it for them. Lay out the big take-aways for them and what action you expect they can take as a result of your presentation.


It is more natural, for many people, to focus on things from their own perspective—doesn’t it make sense that this would come naturally? “I have this new product that I need to tell everyone about.” “I am a nationally recognized expert in xyz and I have been invited to share the latest about this space with their employees.”

Pfft. If you want them to pay attention beyond your introduction, you need to make it clear that there’s a good reason for them to be there. Make your presentation mutually beneficial!

As you approach the development of any pitch or presentation, start by addressing these questions that will help you to be audience-focused:

  • Who is my audience?
  • Why should they come?
  • What are they going to get out of it?
  • How will they be changed or improved as a result of what I have shared with them?

In other words, what’s in it for them?!

Engaging-presentationEngage your audience

Apply design principles to make the presentation engaging and valuable for the audience. Focus on attention—grab their attention, retain it, and leave a lasting (actionable) impression.

Grab their attention

Consider how you will hook your audience at the start of every presentation—and every segment of the presentation! The Heath brothers, in their best seller “Made to Stick”, present six principles for making your ideas “sticky” and helping you to achieve “SUCCESs”:

  • Simplicity – Get to the core of the ideas.
  • Unexpectedness – Inject surprise, emotion, be unpredictable.
  • Concreteness – Make ideas clear, in terms of human actions and sensory information.
  • Credibility – Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials.
  • Emotions – Make our audience care about our ideas—make them feel something.
  • Stories – Tell stories to get people to act on our ideas.

Rather than beginning with the typical agenda slide, start with a short video clip of a comedian highlighting the need for your service or product. Show an emotion-grabbing image, quote, slogan or play a song. Do something different—yet something that is absolutely relevant.

Keep their attention

Practice what we know about attention: people generally have short attention spans, we’re visual creatures, and the easiest way to engage someone’s attention is to address them directly. I have found the guidance of brain scientist, Dr. John Medina (he wrote the bestseller “Brain Rules”) to be very helpful. Some tips shaped from his expertise on attention include:

  • Set and reset expectations—often
  • 10 minute topics – shift gears every 10 minutes or so
  • Rarely more than an hour in a sitting
  • Limit entire presentation to top 3-5 key points—tops!

Top-3-thingsThis last one is one of my favorites—it is a mistake I see being made over and over and it is so tempting to make the mistake! The point is, avoid the “tell ‘em everything you know” mentality, also known as “the kitchen sink approach”. John Medina refers to this common mistake as one including “lots of force feeding, [with] very little digestion.” Presenters go on and on stuffing way too much into a presentation. You know what your audience is going to take away? Nothing…except maybe an upset stomach and an overwhelming desire to take a nap.

Be careful to NOT justify why your presentation is different and should include more. If you win that argument, you’re sure to lose your audience. This forces you to focus on the core of your message, as the Heath brothers would recommend. If they only take three things away, what are the most important, impactful, mutually beneficial three things you’d like them to take with them?

We are visual creatures

Keep this in mind if you want to build a presentation that will retain the attention of your audience. A tip from Garr Reynolds (professional in presentation design) that will help you to create slides or a presentation with visual interest: Take everything that you thought you were going to put on the slide and put it in the notes, and then create a visual that represents what you are saying with minimal words on the screen. It is okay—even beneficial—to include some supporting text. Just keep it to a few words.

Personalize your presentation

Personalize-the-messageEngage your audience and keep their attention by personalizing and directly engaging the audience with questions, discussion, examples. Interaction and Individualization are the keys.

Interaction examples in a web presentation include polling questions, Q&A breaks, ask rhetorical questions throughout the presentation, and employ a colleague to help manage a Chat feature.

Reality check: Do you recall presentations where you were told to hold questions until the end? That happens because the presentation designers/speakers are concerned that they will not get through their material if you take up too much of their time. They likely were planning to force-feed you (they were also likely not aware that they were stuffing too much into the presentation).

Regular breaks for questions (every 10 minutes, perhaps?) are great for audience retention. You can use these periods to help the audience to connect the dots.

Individualization examples also include the use of a Chat feature! There you can address people by name—even if you’re simply acknowledging the participation of an audience member in Chat. If the presentation is live, you might acknowledge the look of surprise, amusement or concern that you observed on an audience member’s face. Present examples where you reference your past experience with an audience member, drawing the spotlight onto him for a moment.

Be sure to include a powerful close

Include clear, actionable take-aways in the close of your session. After all of the work to develop the materials, gather the audience, and prepare for delivery, you want to be sure and end with a lasting (actionable) impression. For example, you might wrap up with something like:

  • Here are the three things that you can do today…
  • The tools you need to get started can be found…
  • What’s holding you back from signing the contract right now?

Properly select the appropriate presentation format for the audience

All Presentations are NOT Created Equally!



  • Images okay
  • Primarily text
  • Provides detail
  • Can stand alone

This is the place for written support for the topic and the key points. A handout is a useful tool that is also comprehensive—everything required to make a decision or to take action.

Web presentation

  • More images
  • Less text
  • Includes visual interest
  • Slides support talking points (don’t put talking points verbatim on slides)
  • Presenter personalizes (with interaction and individualization)
Take advantage of the technology that is available to you for web presentations. Incorporate an online polling, chat and/or Q&A feature. Be careful, again, to not overproduce your presentation to the point of distracting your audience.
This is about engagement and personalizing the message so that you and your audience members know more about each other and the benefits that you will both gain by working together.

In-person presentation

A live presentation may, or may not, include slides. You will almost certainly have a hand-out or, preferably, a leave behind. This is the one place where you can easily directly engage your audience using the common tips that you’ve heard like making eye contact and smiling. If you’re presenting to a room full of people, move around, acknowledge individuals, their expressions, and your history with them. Maybe even bring props and build them into your presentation! Be careful to use your materials to keep the audience’s attention rather than distracting them.

Format Summary: It is okay to recycle (to rework the material so that it is suitable for a different audience). Avoid straight across repurposing (using the exact same materials for various audiences and presentations). Remember that THE AUDIENCE IS PARAMOUNT! Perhaps the visuals can be reused for different audiences, but the presenter should be saying different things to an operations group than they are saying to a sales group; to a client versus a prospect; to a FDICIA expert versus someone in gaming or working in the defense industry. Each audience has their own needs, wants and characteristics. Present “what’s in it for them”.

Utilize these tools to improve your next presentation

  • Regarding presenting from the audience’s perspective, I recommend T J Walker’s How To Develop An Audience-Focused Perspective  -Presentation Training
  • For more information on presentation design, capturing the audience’s attention and more, see Brain Rules for Presenters—a Slideshare by Garr Reynolds. Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds is also packed full of great tips.
  • Present your points visually! You can get free images on Creative Commons: I prefer Flikr images and have used this tool for nearly all of the images in this post!
    • Look for this at the top of the screen: “I want something that I can use for commercial purposes; modify, adapt, or build upon.” Checking these boxes will filter out the images that you cannot borrow for copyright reasons.
    • In most cases, you are free to use others’ images if you give credit to the contributor. A convention I use is: “CC Image courtesy of [contributor’s user name or handle]: [url of the image]”
  • A must have tool for capturing and editing images: TechSmith’s Snagit ($50 per license)
  • Presentation tools
    • slideshare – anyone can use slideshare. This is a great place to review others’ presentations, as well. You’ll see examples of great, and no so great, stand-alone presentations.
    • Prezi – I’m a huge fan! It’s really very simple to create a presentation in Prezi. You can even upload your slides. The benefit is that you can take what would have almost certainly been a 2 dimensional (linear) presentation and make it 3D. You can group related “slides” together and create really eye-popping visual effects. Take care to not overdue it and make your audience sea-sick.
  • Help with reviews of your presentations:
    • Reach out to a colleague who is familiar with your content
    • Ask them to help with these questions:
      • Are these the most important 3-5 points?
      • Do my objectives represent and audience-focused perspective?
      • Am I planning the appropriate format?
      • (If a slide presentation) Do the visuals help to tell the story?
      • Can you tell what action the audience can take as a result of the presentation?
    • Feel free to contact me:
    • Stephenie Buehrle

 Did you get all of that?

  1. YOU are a presenter
  2. Your audience is king – create mutually beneficial presentations
  3. Engage the audience from the beginning and beyond your presentation
  4. Pick the appropriate format to share your idea or information (keeping the take-aways for the audience in mind)
  5. Take advantage of tools presented here to make a difference on your next presentation!
This entry was posted in Industry News, Training and tagged , , , , , , , by Stephenie Buehrle. Bookmark the permalink.

About Stephenie Buehrle

Stephenie is the “solutions” expert on the policyIQ team. With RGP since 2004, she designs and develops solutions that capitalize on the best practices of the hundreds of companies that she has touched, while tailoring each configuration to meet the unique needs of each client. Before joining RGP and the policyIQ team, Stephenie enjoyed working as an independent consultant in the non-profit sector. Stephenie also previously performed analyst services for a major brewer ranging from roles in biological and chemical services to analytical roles in business process improvement and innovation. Stephenie quips that she still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up, but hopes to spend her days helping others (companies, individuals, and communities) to realize their full potential.

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